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Knauer's Korner: Heavner still best fit at QB


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Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
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Already in this young NFL season we've had our share of quarterback controversies. Two teams - the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers - introduced young, potential-laden signal callers in the offseason and have since made opposing moves regarding their use.

The Giants traded for No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning during the draft but ultimately chose to keep free agent signing and former MVP Kurt Warner as their top-man.

The Steelers saw their starter, Tommy Maddox, go down with an injury in the first weeks of the season and were forced to throw first-round draftee Ben Roethlisberger into the backfield.

New York, with the veteran Warner keeping mistakes down and running back Tiki Barber keeping the rushing yards up, is presently 4-1.

Pittsburgh, with the surprisingly savvy Roethlisberger firing away and a talented receiving corps reaping the benefits, is presently 5-1.

What does this tell us?

The UA football quarterback situation is presently a dangerous conundrum.

As the Steelers and Giants have shown, making a decision at quarterback has the power to revive a season, not just destroy it. Every fall, we see strife on the sideline, one player fighting for another player's job, coaches, teammates and fans alike forced to split their sympathies and choose sides. As Arizona prepares for Saturday's home game against No. 7 California, head coach Mike Stoops and offensive coordinator Mike Canales must remember that the rest of this season - nay, the next one or two - will revolve around the choice they make this week.

In this case, the incumbent is sophomore Kris Heavner. Heavner impressed early on, at one point leading the nation in passing efficiency, but a 9-24, two-interception performance against Oregon last weekend prompted the team to send in redshirt freshman Richard Kovalcheck. Kovalcheck tossed a pick on his second pass but was otherwise solid, guiding the team on two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

For fans frustrated with another 1-5 start, the choice is easy: go with Kovalcheck. After all, he did in only a few minutes what Heavner has struggled with all season - found the end zone with his teammates. Kovalcheck may have done it against the backups, but wasn't he the only reason the team returned home without a shutout to think about?

Heavner's tenure in Tucson has been inexorably inconsistent. He won some trust last season in relief of Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara, providing a slight spark to an anemic offense, but now finds himself with a unit whose points per game average (14.0) mirrors that of 2003. The West Coast-spread offense the team runs has seemed remarkably bland with Heavner in charge (read: screen pass, run, repeat), particularly with his accuracy dropping and his decision-making still a hindrance.

But what exactly does the team gain with Kovalcheck? Forget the potential.

This is a quarterback who has spent the last 15 months away from on-field action. That touchdown he threw? It sure looked nice, but who's to say he won't fold against such prominent teams as the Bears, Southern California and (yes, sadly) Arizona State? A 50-percent completion rating and an even touchdown-to-interception ratio, as he ended with against the Ducks, simply won't do the job. (For the sake of reference, Heavner has thrown as many TDs as picks this season, four, on 58.5 percent accuracy.)

Heavner, though still a project, gives the team the consistency it needs as the Pacific 10 Conference schedule ignites. It's clear he needs time in the offense. To abandon him now in favor of Kovalcheck would more than wipe away the progress Heavner has made so far; it would be a stunning, inexplicable reprisal of last season, when three starting quarterbacks made for a whopping two victories and just one Pac-10 win.

In a year for Arizona that's already looked quite a bit like its predecessor, it's time not to make a change.

-Tom Knauer is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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